- The Borzoi is a sighthound, bred to chase running prey.
- The graceful, elegant Borzoi was a favorite subject of artists during the Art Deco era.
- The Borzoi’s long, silky coat can be any color or combination of colors.
- The Borzoi is a giant breed.
AKC group: Hound
UKC group: Sighthound
Average lifespan: 7 – 10 years
Average size: 60 – 105 pounds
Coat appearance: Long, silky, flat
Coloration: Golden, black, white, red, brindle, cream
Possible alterations: Long, narrow head; slightly slanted, dark eyes; small ears close to the head; large, black nose; arched back, straight legs and long, curved tail
Possible alterations: Coat can be slightly wavy with many color variations, including black markingsComparable Breeds: Afghan Hound, Greyhound
The Borzoi originated centuries ago in Czarist Russia, where they were bred by aristocrats as coursing sighthounds. The Borzoi’s predecessors are thought to have come from Egypt and include the long-coated, smooth-faced Russian Bearhound, the coursing hounds of the Tatars, the Owtchar, a tall Russian sheepdog and other ancient sighthound breeds. Whatever the mix, by 1260 the sport of hare coursing was documented in connection with the Court of the Grand Duke of Novgorod. The first Borzoi standard was written in 1650 and apparently did not differ much from the standard today. According to the American Kennel Club, “from the time of Ivan the Terrible in the mid-1500s to the abolition of serfdom in 1861, hunting with Borzoi was the national sport of the aristocracy.”
|Sarah Bernhardt, depicted with borzoi,
by Georges Clairin, French painter
During this period, great rural estates with hundreds of serfs and thousands of acres were devoted to breeding, training and hunting with the Borzoi. The breed was pampered and promoted by Russian royalty on a grand scale unparalleled in the development of any other breed. Guests, horses, dogs, tents, kitchens and carriages came by special trains to attend ceremonial “hunts.” More than a hundred Borzoi in matched pairs or trios, with additional foxhound packs and riders on horseback, made up the primary hunting party, with “beaters” on foot to flush out the game – usually a wolf. The Borzoi would pursue the wolf, and the horsemen would pursue the Borzoi, until the dogs captured, pinned and held their quarry. Typically, the huntsmen would leap off their horses, grab, gag and bind the wolf, and then either kill it or set it free. These extravagant affairs involved elaborate attire, feasting and festivity.
Several Borzoi were sent as gifts to Princess Alexandra of Britain in 1842, and the breed was exhibited at the first Crufts World Dog Show in 1891. In 1863, the Imperial Association was formed to protect and promote the old-style Borzoi. Many present-day American bloodlines are traceable to the dogs of breeders who were members of this club. Most notable among these were the Grand Duke Nicholas, uncle to the Czar and field marshal of the Russian armies, and Artem Boldareff, a wealthy Russian aristocrat. The first Borzoi to come to America was allegedly brought from England in 1889 by a fancier of the breed living in Pennsylvania. The first American to travel to Russia and directly import Borzois was C. Steadman Hanks, the Massachusetts founder of the Seacroft Kennels in the 1890s. In 1903, Joseph B. Thomas of Valley Farm Kennels made several trips to Russia to obtain specimens of the breed that played a key role in the development of American Borzoi pedigrees, including dogs from the Perchino Kennels owned by the Grand Duke Nicholas and from the Woronzova Kennels owned by Artem Boldareff.
|Wolf hunting with borzois (1904), Efim A. Tikhmenev.
The Borzoi Club of America was formed in November of 1903, then called the “Russian Wolfhound Club of America.” The breed standard was approved at a meeting held during the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February of 1904, and the breed club was elected to membership in the American Kennel Club in May of that year. The official breed standard was formally adopted in 1905 and is essentially the same today, with minor revisions made in 1940 and 1972. The breed’s name was changed from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi in 1936, and the parent club’s name was changed to the Borzoi Club of America that same year.
Today, this breed is largely unchanged from its Russian ancestors in both appearance and ability. Borzois are still used by farmers in the Western United States to ward off coyotes. They excel in AKC lure coursing competitions and in the conformation ring. Above all, Borzois are graceful, glamorous, gentle and devoted companions.
The gentle-spirited Borzoi personality ranges from serious and stately to clownish. As a companion, the Borzoi is quiet, sensible, and intelligent. He prefers not to be left alone for long periods. His reaction to strangers ranges from aloof to friendly. In general, he’s trusting of people and not shy. The Borzoi’s easygoing nature doesn’t necessarily mean he’s easy to train, however. He’s an independent thinker and can be stubborn. Last but not least, it’s important to the Borzoi to know that he’s loved, cared for, and will never be put in harm’s way.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, Borzoi need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Borzoi puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
With an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, the Borzoi dog breed is prone to major health concerns such as gastric torsion, and minor problems like cardiomyopathy and hypothyroidism. The Borzoi reacts adversely barbiturate anesthesia. To identify some of these issues, your veterinarian may run thyroid and cardiac tests on this breed of dog.
To maintain their fitness these dogs need plenty of exercise, including a long daily walk and regular opportunities to run off the leash, however in some countries it is forbidden to allow all the dogs in this fleet-footed hunting category off the leash. The Borzoi make excellent jogging companions and usually enjoy running alongside a bicycle but beware, a Borzoi is quite likely to shoot off after any prey it catches sight of. If this happens you will need to react very quickly.
Functioning best as house dogs, with easy access to a yard, Borzoi can reside outdoors in cold weather, provided a warm shelter and soft bedding are offered. The male Borzoi has a fuller coat than the female, and requires combing or brushing two or three times a week. There are times when the dog sheds a great deal. This breed of dog does well when given a chance to exercise every day with a long walk and a sprint in an enclosed area.
Borzoi should be brushed weekly to keep the coat healthy, manageable and mat-free. Groomers recommend using a pin brush on this breed, as wire slicker brushes can damage the coat. They shed lightly throughout the year and heavy during the change of seasons, so more brushing may be required in the Spring and Fall months. Borzoi are clean dogs whose coats naturally deflect dirt and only require baths on an as-needed basis.
Regular ear and teeth cleanings will keep harmful bacteria from building up in the ear canal and mouth leading to infections or bad breath. Nails need to be trimmed once or twice a month.
Is this breed right for you?
Best for homes with larger yards, this breed is a loyal member of the family. Affectionate to both familiar people and strangers, the Borzoi would make a great pet for someone who has a lot of company. Good with children but not prone to roughhousing, this pet is best suited for families with teens or without children. Likely to hunt and chase smaller animals, this is not a good breed to pair with a cat. Quiet but large, he would do OK with apartment life if exercised regularly.
The Borzoi can be too large for a household with small children, especially toddlers. They’re giant dogs and can easily knock over a child by accident. Nor are they especially tolerant of toddlers poking and prodding them. They’re best suited to homes with older children who understand how to interact with dogs.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Generally, Borzoi aren’t aggressive toward other dogs, although in an uncontrolled situation their sighthound heritage may take over, especially if small dogs are running around. Some can be aggressive toward dogs of the same sex. With training, young Borzoi can learn not to chase or snap at smaller household pets, including cats. That training may only hold indoors, however. Cats outdoors — even your own cat — may be viewed as fair game.
The Borzoi was bred in Russia to course wolves and other game across open fields and, if necessary, to capture and hold it until the arrival of the huntsman. Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace” has a scene describing such a hunt.
A dream day in the life of a Borzoi
Waking up slowly, the Borzoi will quietly sneak downstairs for his daily feeding. After checking out the home, he’ll go outside for a run and trail any possible animals in the yard. Once he knows the coast is clear, he’ll be ready for a nap in the sun. When his owner gets home, the Borzoi will be patiently waiting for his daily run. After dinner, he’ll snooze next to his master.